February 9, 2007 / 5:16 PM / in 12 years

Quartet reiterates conditions for Palestinian aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The quartet of Middle East mediators on Friday repeated its demand that any Palestinian government renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect peace deals in order to receive Western aid.

In a joint statement, the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States withheld judgment on whether a new national unity government to be formed by rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah met its conditions.

The rival Palestinian factions signed an agreement to form a unity government on Thursday, hoping to end bloodshed between their followers and to win back Western aid halted because of the hostility of Hamas to Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reached the deal at crisis talks in Mecca after internecine fighting that has killed more than 90 Palestinians since December.

“The Quartet welcomed the role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in reaching the agreement to form a Palestinian National Unity government. The Quartet expressed hope that the desired calm would prevail,” the group said in the statement released by the State Department after a quartet conference call.

“While awaiting formation of the new Palestinian government, the Quartet reaffirmed its statement of February 2 regarding its support for a Palestinian government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations,” it added.

At first glance, the pact did not appear to fully meet the three conditions laid down by the quartet as a condition of restoring direct aid.

The agreement made no mention of recognition of Israel. But Abbas, in a letter reappointing Haniyeh as prime minister, said the new government should abide by “international law” and agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“We believe the Palestinian people deserve a Palestinian Authority government that ... is clearly and credibly committed to the principles reiterated by the quartet at its meeting last week,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who participated in Friday’s quartet conference call, is likely to have further consultations before she leaves for the Middle East toward the end of next week, the State Department said.

During her trip, Rice plans to hold a three-way meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, whom Washington is supporting in his power struggle with Hamas.

“The real question for this unity government ... is what policies is it going to adopt? How is it going to act? How does that agreement in principle on that piece of paper that they produced in Mecca get translated into an actual government with actual policies and does that actual government and actual policy meet the quartet standards?” said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

“We’ll see. I think it’s going to be a while before we know,” the official added.

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